Something's Happening

With the president bound for Jordan, the vice president just back from Saudi Arabia, the Iranians and the Iraqis meeting in Tehran, Syria and Iraq reopening diplomatic relations, the Israeli prime minister offering a new peace initiative to the Palestinians, the Lebanese cabinet approving a U.N. tribunal to investigate Syrian involvement in assassinations, the Baker-Hamilton commission pushing toward a final report, and the worst one-day massacre of civilians in Iraq, it has been quite a seven-day period.

One can feel the tectonic plates shifting in the Middle East, but whether they will result in a new alignment or a major earthquake is still in the balance. As the group Buffalo Springfield sang in the 1960s, "Something's happening here... what it is ain't exactly clear."

President Bush denied again today that a civil war is underway in Iraq, just as for over a year, the administration denied there was an insurgency.

He claims that the problem in the country is al Qaeda, but his commanders admit that foreign fighters represent a small proportion of the insurgents and most of the violence is now Shia on Sunni and vice versa -- in short, a civil war.

If that civil war expands, it threatens Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Leaders in Iraq, too, are realizing that they are looking into a deadly maw out of which it may not be possible to climb until thousands have died and the country is irreparable.

So it may be that there is a window now when all sides see that settling things in Iraq may be in their interest.

The problem remains that all of those with an interest in the outcome in Iraq continue to want to maximize their control of the oil-rich country and to disadvantage their opponents.

The majority Shia have broken into many factions, some of which may be beyond Iran's control. Some in the Iranian leadership still want to bleed the United States to deter us from attacking Iran and its nuclear program.

The minority Sunnis were promised constitutional changes that would protect their rights to some of the nation's oil revenues, but that has not happened. Many Sunnis are still banned from government because of their earlier connections to the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

It is predominately Sunnis who are attacking the American forces, causing most of the U.S. fatalities.

The ethnic slaughter has made it almost impossible for the U.S. to create a real national army or police force of the size and capability necessary to replace the coalition forces.

Given the tens of thousands on both sides who have been tortured and died terrible deaths, even if the leaders were to decide to make peace, the desire for personal revenge will be hard to stop.

What all of this means for Bush as he flies to Amman, is that all of the realistically available options are unattractive.